Posted by: egutoday | April 5, 2011

Dirk’s column

“The fox knows many litle things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing” (Archilochus, 7th century B.C.) This distinction nicely describes the challenge that we scientists face if we want our work to lead to a better future. Compared to the complexity of today’s globalised world, we indeed often know just one topic truly well, whereas we don’t know all the many little things that our one big topic might affect.

Therefore, we possibly best con­tribute to a better future by clearly and impartially communicating our findings to society and policy makers. The shared knowledge of all the stakeholders embraces eve­rything -both small and large- and is necessary for weighing one thing against another.

We could, however, always aim for our findings to stand out from the crowd. For this, two factors are crucial. The first is credibility. Without credibility, the impact of our scientific findings on decision making will justifiably be minute. The second factor relates to the reliability of our findings. We must communicate that allow­ing for a measure of uncertainty actually increases the reliability of our findings. Because non-scientific predictions often lack this measure of uncertainty, they are invariably perceived as more reliable than our findings. This perception, I believe, we must try to change.

Dirk Notz

Max Planck Institute for Meteorology
Hamburg, Germany

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